Schumer says the Senate will act on marijuana legalization regardless of Biden’s position

Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer said that Democrats will “move forward” on a federal marijuana legalization bill.
  • Schumer’s stance comes as President Joe Biden continues to “study” the issue.
  • The New York Democrat saw the legalization of recreational marijuana in his home state this week.
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Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in an interview with Politico that his caucus will advance with federal marijuana legalization, regardless of President Joe Biden’s ultimate position on the issue.

Schumer, who first introduced a marijuana legalization bill in 2018, said in the interview that he was crafting new legislation with Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Biden, who has been less eager to fully push for federal legalization in the past and has recently drawn criticism for his administration instructing several staffers to resign or work remotely due to their past drug use, continues to “study” the issue, Schumer told the outlet.

“I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will,” Schumer said. “But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

This week, Schumer’s home state legalized marijuana use among adults 21 years of age and older for the first time after years of legislative roadblocks.

He pointed to states that have long legalized marijuana as reasons to back a federal bill.

“The legalization of states worked out remarkably well,” he said. “They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom.”

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has adamantly opposed marijuana legalization, but Schumer is pledging to work with Senate Republicans and wavering Democrats on the issue.

“What we want to do is first introduce our comprehensive bill, and then start sitting down with people who are not for this in both parties, and A) try to educate them, B) see what their objections are, and if they have some modifications that don’t interfere with the main thrust of the bill,” he said. “We’d certainly listen to some suggestions if that’ll bring more people on board.”

McConnell’s influence over his GOP caucus may not be the biggest obstacle for federal legislation, though.

Biden has said in the past that there was not enough evidence to indicate whether marijuana was a gateway drug.

“It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally,” Biden said during a 2019 town hall event. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

That same year, amid criticism over his past support of hardline 1990s-era drug laws, he said “no one should be in jail for marijuana use” and expressed that recreational marijuana use should be decriminalized, backing the rights of states to pursue decriminalization.

Last December, the House passed a bill legalizing marijuana at the federal level, the first time either chamber of Congress had voted on such a measure.

When asked about Biden potentially vetoing a legalization bill, Schumer said that the president is continuing to examine his stance surrounding the matter.

“Well, he said he’d like to see more information on the issue,” he said. “I respect that. I certainly will have an ongoing conversation with him, and tell him how my views evolved. And hope that his will to.”

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‘Unfair and out-of-touch’: Democrats slam Biden’s White House staff marijuana policy

White House marijuana
A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves on it during a protest outside of the White House calling for the legalization of marijuana on April 2, 2016.

  • Several Democrats are criticizing the Biden White House over their marijuana policy for staffers.
  • Staffers were asked to resign or told to work remotely due to their drug use, per The Daily Beast.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the policy only affected a small number of staffers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several leading Democrats are criticizing a White House policy that has disqualified or and sidelined staffers for past marijuana use, as first reported by The Daily Beast on Friday.

Sources told The Daily Beast that dozens of young staffers under were suspended, asked to resign, or told to work remotely after informing the White House that they had smoked marijuana recreationally – a marked reversal from President Joe Biden administration’s stance of allowing recreational cannabis smokers to apply for open roles.

The rebuke from members of the president’s own party represents a major policy rift just days after the successful passage of the Democratic-backed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California on Friday shared his displeasure over the policy with The Daily Beast, highlighting that medical cannabis was now the law of the land in most states and Washington DC and expressing that the country had “evolved beyond [former US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions’ reefer madness hysteria.”

“I want to find out how and why this happened, and obviously I’m going to urge them to change course,” he said. “This administration promised a more enlightened approach, but somewhere along the line they reverted to the dogma.”

Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was even sharper in his criticism.

“What’s happening now is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out-of-touch cannabis policies,” he told The Daily Beast. “There is confusion across the country because of out of date laws and the fact that the American public is not waiting for the federal government to get its act together. This is an opportunity for the Biden administration to help end the failed War on Drugs and make a more rational policy for everyone.”

He added: “In the meantime, these young people should not be singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by the vast majority of Americans.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the pushback to the report on Twitter, noting that of the hundreds of staffers hired, just five individuals were no longer serving in the administration.

“The bottom line is this: of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy,” she wrote.

Psaki didn’t specify how many applicants were potentially blocked from actually being hired, but told The Daily Beast that there were other considerations pertaining to individuals affected by the policy.

“In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” she said in a statement. “While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated.”

Other members didn’t bite their tongue in responding to the report, including progressive Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California.

“This is an absurd policy that will block law abiding people – particularly people of color – from pursuing careers in public service,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s all the more unjust that many of these staffers applied for their security clearances with the understanding that past marijuana use would not be held against them.”

While cannabis is legal in Washington DC and 14 states, possession of the drug remains a federal crime, as it is still considered a Schedule I drug, the “most dangerous class” of substances.

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